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The FoMO Phenomenon: Why You May Have a Fear of Missing Out

By Sandra McGill

"Vvvt. Vvvt." You feel your cell phone vibrate, alerting you to a new status update or text message. No matter that you're driving; you need to see what it says—now. Ever feel that if you're out of touch for one moment, you'll miss something critical? Is your smartphone never farther than six inches away? Do you compulsively text or peruse Facebook during class, work, at dinner, or—gulp—behind the wheel? Fear of missing out can feel intense, and the Internet has created an interconnected monster. But no worries: This beast can be tamed. Come transform the fear of missing out into the joy of joining in.

Social Media Mayhem

"Fear of Missing Out," or "FoMO," is the anxious feeling that you've got to stay constantly connected with other people, lest you miss out on the rewarding experiences they seem to be having. While FoMO can be associated with a desire to take advantage of all the opportunities available to you, recent research indicates it has intensified in the age of social media.

In his 2013 research, Dr. Andrew Przybylski, at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, found that students with FoMO tend to do the following:

  • Email, text, and/or use social media at key times of the day, i.e., right after waking, before going to sleep, and/or during meals.
  • Check accounts during lectures or in class.
  • Pay more attention to their mobile phones while driving than those without FoMO.
  • Report lower mood and overall life satisfaction.

Mary N., a graduate student at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, says, "I have a smartphone, and I'm glued to it constantly checking my email and texts. My frequency for checking Facebook varies depending on the day. If I skip a day or two, I notice that the next time I'm on Facebook, I tend to spend more time scrolling through the news feed because I feel like I might have missed something." She continues, "I feel pressured to check my phone constantly."

Be in the "No"

To counteract the temptation of nonstop communication, it's important to tune in to what's realistic and best for you. What are your true priorities? Is emailing, texting, or feeding the Facebook monster helping you achieve your goals? Doing everything is impossible. Accept that you can be in only one place at a time.

Sherry H., a student at Ashford University online, says, "It speaks to time management and setting priorities. Missing an update on Facebook has to be a low priority in comparison to school work or quality time with friends and family." Indeed, FoMO can lead to disconnection from what's happening right in front of you.

If you don't view a post, the world is not going to end, and most likely, nothing will happen whatsoever. If something is truly important, you'll find out.

Reign in Internet Use

In a recent Student Health 101 survey, respondents said they set time limits on their media use by doing the following:

  • Closing some accounts
  • Disabling notifications
  • Deleting apps
  • Putting the phone on "Do Not Disturb" setting
  • Enabling Internet restriction apps
  • Using good, old-fashioned will power

"Sometimes, I time myself. For example, I give myself 15 minutes to upload a new album and that's it," says Mary.

Emily M., a second-year student at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, notes, "Everything I have is always on silent. If I don't hear a notification, then in my world, nothing new has happened that needs my immediate attention."

Find Your Focus Online

In 2012, Dr. Nicholas Herrera of DePaul University in Chicago, reported that most people who experience FoMO are motivated by social reasons, namely friends and family. Use your online time to connect with the people in your life that matter. Emily says, "I work and go to school, so physical get-togethers can be tough to schedule. Facebook keeps me closer with my friends and family."

You can also leverage social networks to your advantage. Dr. Nicole Ellison, a researcher at Michigan State University in Ann Arbor, found that some students use Facebook to connect with current friends. Plus, as the Pew Research Center's 2011 Internet & American Life Project found, it can also revive "dormant" friendships. In other words, feeling angst about the tweet you missed may be unproductive, but using the Web to organize a trip with old friends or long-lost family is a great idea.

Tune in to Reality

People usually post the highlights of their lives online—not their mundane, ho-hum visits to the post office or disappointing setbacks. Since people post selectively, there is a skewed sense of what life is really like.

Elizabeth O., a student at the University of California, Merced, says, "Most of my 'friends' in real life are not what they appear to be on Facebook." Keep this astute saying in mind: "Don't compare your every day with someone else's highlights."

Dr. Hannah Roberts, a counselor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, suggests, "If you are feeling down and lonely, it might not be a good time to go online. Know yourself and how something might affect you emotionally."

Dr. Przybylski notes that if you're experiencing FoMO, you have an opportunity to be proactive. "Talk to someone [in person]. It's amazing what a relief that can provide," says Dr. Roberts. Emily says, "Facebook and social media are not a replacement for physical face-to-face greetings. I need to have personal interactions outside of a computer."

Your life is more than the Web. Don't let texts take over, emails engulf you, or social networks swallow you up. Instead, use them as a tool and know when to say "no." The next time your smartphone says "Vvvt," just tell it to "Shh."

* Name changed for privacy.

Take Action!

  • Set time limits on social media use.
  • Filter your intake to just those things that build up your self-esteem.
  • Use social media to cultivate flesh-and-blood relationships.
  • Remember that no update is worth risking injury. Pledge to never text and drive.
  • Remember: Online images can be different than reality.

Call-out Quote

Don't compare your every day with someone else's highlights.

Reign In Social Media Use

Here are 10 ideas for setting boundaries on social media:

  • Have clear intentions regarding how you plan to use social media.
  • Use a temporary blocking service to help you stay on task.
  • Set boundaries with friends. Let them know when you'll be online/available and be clear about when you won't.
  • Don't hit refresh. Read and review social media for a few minutes, then let it go.
  • Get outside. Leave your phone and other gadgets inside.
  • If a toxic relationship triggers a reaction every time you read something from or about the person, block his or her communications.
  • Read blogs to be inspired. If they leave you feeling left out or "less than," log off.
  • When you feel the urge to get online, get out a pen instead. Write a handwritten note or make plans to spend time with someone in person.
  • Focus on communicating with your close friends and family when online. Use other plugged-in time for academic project research or learning something new.
  • Exchange tips with friends. Lots of people are looking to tame the social media beast.

Do You Have FoMO?

Before taking the quiz, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I believe my peers "have it all figured out?"
  • Do I feel left out when I read about what other people are doing?
  • Am I distracted by social media while studying?
  • Do I leave social media pages open while studying?
  • Do I feel overwhelmed or derailed when I read or see someone else's post?

Sudents can access the UW Colleges Student Health 101 magazine online at http://readsh101.com/uwonline.html. Copyright 2013 Student Health 101

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